It must be fun to dance for Andrea Miller. The artistic director and choreographer of Gallim Dance brought the goods last night at the Dance Center, but it wasn’t simply the fact that Miller’s work is a suspenseful evolution of highs, lows, peaks and valleys; it was also that the dancers look like they’re having a blast dancing it. Blush is an athletic marathon as much as it is a piece of choreography; it’s a workout, and it doesn’t stop till the makeup runs down the fronts of faces and the backs of necks.
Miller, who comes from the school of Gaga, having danced under Batsheva artistic director Ohad Naharin, has talked about her fondness for athleticism. But if Miller learned anything from her time in Tel Aviv, it’s to make the most of the movement and even more the stillness. The roughly hour-long Blush begins with a male solo, a punch in the mouth of writhing, pops, locks and force that sets the tone for the next variation—a trio of long-legged, technically elegant women. Three men drag themselves in the background, until they eventually assimilate with the rest of the group. The contrast of sharp lines, inverted torsos and contracted bellies is arresting, though some of the more poignant portions of the dance happen when there’s almost no movement at all.
Doused in white, grainy paint, the dancers flail and tangle their limbs, gesturing in unpredictable fashion. Shifts occur in cued blackouts and music changes, perhaps the only thing that doesn’t feel as seamless as the rest of the piece. Otherwise, the imagination and the infusion of energy are in tune with the title of the work—a rush of blood that effectively shades our faces a new color.
I confess to loving Naharin’s Gaga technique, which is based on a free-flowing, do-it-yourself investigation of moving. But this wasn’t a Batsheva piece, at least not to me. Miller has caught flak for imitating her onetime mentor with similar aesthetics. Some influence is there, yes, but Naharin is not what I felt. In fact, one of Miller’s achievements is using the techniques of Gaga to inspire her own investigation of harder, faster momentums, using many styles and forms. Gaga isn’t the only thing present.
In a rip-roaring finale, the dancers coalesce in hearty celebration, an indie rave. Like the "fuck it, I don’t care who’s watching" dancing of a woman that inspired Miller to choreograph Blush in the first place, the rave feels awesome, as the dancers absorb the totality of their surroundings, anticipating the following two days, when they get to do it over again.
How many of us would wish for a second chance at our first time? Broken Nose Theatre can't help you there, but it can give you another shot at My First Time. Following a Chicago debut this summer, Broken Nose has remounted its production of the Off Broadway reality-theater piece in a late-night run at the.
New York theater producer Ken Davenport adapted the show from the anonymous entries on the website myfirsttime.com, a sort of sex-specific, primitive PostSecret that dates back to the Internet-prehistoric days of 1997. Davenport arranges snippets from the site for a quartet of actors seated on a row of stools, reminiscent of similarly fashioned shows like The Vagina Monologues or Love, Loss and What I Wore. Shorter takes are grouped in rat-a-tat style around themes such as the setting or age at which the contributors lost their virginity; other tales are presented at greater depth, interspersed with sex statistics and anecdotes from that night's audience, collected preshow via anonymous survey.
The tone of the stories ranges from smirky and bragadocious to regretful or occasionally shocking. Yet while the recollections are intimate, they never feel sensationalized in director Benjamin Brownson's even-keeled staging, preceded at each performance by a different Chicago storyteller relating his or her own first time. My First Time continues Fridays at 11pm through October 27; see greenhousetheater.org for more info.
Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – 1884 hangs in the Art Institute, but another masterpiece inspired by this work can currently be found at Navy Pier’s Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Gary Griffin’s five-star revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park with George is an inspiring and gorgeous production, featuring a stunning lead performance from Jason Danieley. A native of St. Louis, Danieley got involved with theater in high school, when he began performing at the St. Louis Symphony and Six Flags St. Louis. He received classical voice training at University of Missouri in Kansas City and Southern Illinois University but never finished college, instead moving to Champaign for a short stint doing dinner theater before heading to New York. He received his big break when he was cast in the title role of Hal Prince’s Broadway revival of Candide, and has since been seen on Broadway in The Full Monty, Curtains and Next to Normal, in which he starred opposite wife Marin Mazzie. Danieley speaks to us about this role's challenges, how Sondheim's music enhances the character, and the ways he relates George's story to his own life.
Andrea Miller wants to get off the phone. “I’m so sorry. Can I call you back?” she asks. “I’m just finishing up a meeting.” The artistic director of Gallim (pronounced “Gal-eem”) rings me a couple of minutes later. The Brooklyn-based choreographer and former Batsheva dancer seems busy a lot these days, as her star continues to rise with each new tour and performance with her five-year-old company. We talk about her upcoming show at the Dance Center of Columbia, her choice in music and whether she'd ever consider a move to Chicago.
Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company is taking a chance on a high-profile remount of its hit production of Superior Donuts at the . Director Matt Miller will again helm the play for a four-week run October 31–November 25 in the Royal George's 193-seat Cabaret Theatre, with most of his original cast, led by Richard Cotovsky and Jeff nominee Preston Tate Jr., intact.
The second Chicago production of Tracy Letts's Uptown-set play following its 2008 debut at Steppenwolf, Donuts ran for 12 sold-out weeks last spring at, Mary-Arrchie's cozy Lakeview walkup; you can read my February review . With a two-week July remount at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, producing director Carlo Garcia says Donuts is the best selling production in Mary-Arrchie's 27-year history. The Royal George transfer comes with a hefty hike in ticket prices—$50 ($40 for students and seniors), up from $18–$22 at Angel Island. Tickets go on sale this Friday at the Royal George box office and Ticketmaster.
In an early number last Saturday at the offical press opening of Cupid Has A Heart On, the long-running musical sketch show that recently moved venues from iO to Stage 773, a trigger-happy plastic surgeon concocts a plan to completely make over his female patient. A trim here and a lift there is all she needs to be desired. We're meant to empathize. Eventually, doctor and patient break into song and the number ends hilariously with bits of plastic appendages (purchased at nearby Uncle Fun, I'm guessing) being flung at the audience. It's a palatable number in what turns out to be a very palatable show. But if I had my way, I would give this date-night offering a nip/tuck.
First, a few kudos. The space is great. After a decade run at iO's Del Close Theater, it's satisfying to see the Cupid Players (directed by Brian Posen, who is at the helm of Stage 773) come home to its new cabaret space. The material is frequently bawdy and the intimate Cabaret Theater allows the performers to get in the faces of the audience, which they frequently do. Another plus is that Cupid nimbly crosses musical genres. There were genuinely great vocals at work in a scene where a couple does right by each other in exchange for sexual favors. The number is sung in the style of a torchy Broadway Act I finale and it was a higlight for me. Ditto a sketch in which the perfect date is sidelined by the inevitable request, "Let's just be friends." We've all heards those words before but have we ever heard them sung in the style of a barbershop quartet? "You're like a brother to her," they hum in gorgeous harmony. It's fantastic.
But after ten years, Cupid is starting to feel like a dated product and one aimed at tourists. I didn't see much of my own single life reflected in the show. Few and far between were references to social media, online dating, Internet hookups and sexting. The show feels a little old-fashioned, as if the world hasn't changed much in a decade's time (oh, but it has!). One number is about whipped husbands, and while it would probably kill in Downers Grove (that's a place, right?), in Chicago it just doesn't describe the married friends I've observed. And would you believe that a show about sex and love that plays in the heart of Lakeview contains only a fleeting nod to the gay community?
Cupid could also stand to be more Chicago-specific. Aside from a couple local references to White Castle and John Barleycorn (part of an admittedly spirited number about the walk of shame all single people take), this didn't feel at all like a Chicago show. These characters might as well be meeting up, hooking up and breaking up in Des Moines. I recognized most of the cast and these longtime denizens of our city should be able to fix this in a pinch. I hope they do.
Cupid Has A Heart On is a breeze to watch. I was never bored once. But it also feels a little milquetoast, like the kind of show you would pair with dinner at nearby Mia Francesca. I'm sure the Cupid Players have big plans for Stage 773 and I hope they succeed in that space. But I also know that Second City had high hopes for its tepid Sex and the Second City: A Dot Comedy. Remember that show? I didn't think so.
I don't know if my ubiquitous ringing endorsements of L.A.-based comedian Maria Bamford are a signal of good taste (Bamford is arguably one of today's most in-demand stand-ups) or merely a confession of kinship (we're both crazy). Bamford both opened and closed her show speaking openly and freely about mental illness. When she hit the UP stage in blue jeans, a grey hoodie and a mop of peroxide hair, she apologized for cancelling her appearance at Mayne Stage last fall. "I made it to Chicago," she said, "but I was confused and bleeding." Bamford killed it.
It’s been 14 years since they first jumped into the pool, but the cast of Metamorphoses fearlessly leaps back into Mary Zimmerman’s play in a beautiful revival at Lookingglass Theatre. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Broadway production that earned Zimmerman a Tony Award for Best Direction, the revival features eight actors who appeared in the original cast, including Doug Hara. Among other characters, Hara playing Phaethon, son of Apollo, and Eros, god of love, giving a performance that shows off his incredible versatility. A native of Manhattan, Hara was involved in after-school theater programs that introduced him to Broadway directors, landing himself a role on Broadway in 7th grade when he starred in John Peilmeier’s Vietnam War drama The Boys of Winter, a failed production that closed after exactly one week. When one of his after-school mentors chose to attend Northwestern for graduate school, Hara looked into their undergraduate theater program, enrolling as a freshman when many of the Lookingglass Theatre founders were seniors. He built a creative and personal relationship with the artists, dovetailing out of college straight into Lookingglass, where he would eventually become an ensemble member. Hara lives in New Jersey with his wife and children, but still considers Chicago his artistic home. He speaks to us about working with Mary Zimmerman, the cultural impact of Metamorphoses, and how he prepared to let it all hang out as the nude Eros.
What is Fran Lebowitz's favorite thing about being a New Yorker? "I got there before I had to move to Brooklyn," she quips. In perfect form last night at the Harris Theater, Lebowitz delivered crackling one-liners while in conversation with Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey. This was followed by an hour-long audience Q&A. Ms. Lebowitz was witty and incisive, completely candid and never pandering to an audience that bordered on obsequious (including this writer).
In Kota Yamazaki’s (glowing)—now playing at the Dance Center through Saturday 29—it’s easy to get lost in your own madness, which is sometimes the point. Yamazaki takes inspiration from Japanese novelist Jun'ichirō Tanizaki’s essay "In Praise of Shadows"; a work that stems from the author’s idea that darkness yields tranquility. Alas, the praising of shadows doesn’t necessarily come to pass by the time the piece concludes. In fact, the shadows feel more menacing than before. But if the intention (as the Fluid Hug-Hug artistic director says in the program) wasn’t meant to be a literal exploration of the essay, more an examination of the “organic communication” between his dancers, then the “praise” part makes a bit more sense, and Yamazaki—a traditional Butoh practitioner—has created a style that’s quite unique.